Thursday, 21 October 2010

In Praise of Apples

These are photographs taken whilst we were in Hay-on-Wye recently. It is so good to see local fruit offered for sale in the green-grocer's and I couldn't resist getting 4 different types to try. I had a lovely chat to the storekeeper about proper English apples. I'm sure he must have thought me a bit "twp", the way I was getting so enthusiastic!! The Devonshire Quarrenden is one I should have planted here years ago, but will definitely find a space for when we move. It has the most wonderful red flushed flesh and a slight taste of strawberries. Apparently the warmer the summer, the better the red colouring - these were REALLY red-flushed so it must have been warmer than us in Herefordshire this summer! I am definitely going to have this in my little mini orchard when we move, along with Pitmaston Pineapple and Cornish Aromatic and . . . I do have quite a long list now! Perhaps the orchard wont be quite so mini!

The Monarch apples are primarily cookers, but more like the dual-purpose apples I have in my garden which you can eat or cook. To eat, they were crisp with a fresh acidic taste. Parentage is apparently a cross between Peasgood Nonsuch x Dumelows Seedling.

You can just see a basket of "Falstaff" apples and some "Worcester Pearmains" (pronounced "permain") which were the other two we bought. The latter were for my husband, who likes his apples sweeter and softer, and they suited his palate. The Falstaff were crisp and juicy and I liked them, though they were a lot more acidic than my husband's choice. They are a newish variety, "bred" in the 1980s in Kent. I think it's a cross between Golden Delicious and James Grieve.

These are apples from one of our trees here - just the humble everyday Bramley - but it is a prolific cropper, even though it has fallen over now. They keep well and make the most wonderful apple pies, and of course cook to a pulp for apple sauce. As the picture below shows, we get a really good picking from our trees most years - this was just from the Bramley.

Until last year, when it finally gave up fruiting due to disease, we had an ancient Russet tree in the paddock, a good 30 feet tall. It was probably a Welsh "Leatherjacket" and had always fruited prolifically. It must have been planted in Victorian times . . . Anyway, it ended up keeping us warm through the bitterly cold months of January and February last winter. This photo still chokes me though but it was SO diseased it was going to split and fall anyway.

This is one of the books I bought at Hay last time. It just had my name written all over it, as I am passionate about English Apples. Inside are chapters about the history of English apple orchards and cider making; plenty of recipes, and a gazetteer of local varieties, as well as a whole section on saving our apple orchards, identifying old apples, celebrating apples, lists of suppliers etc. A fabulous book.

Below is a book our eldest daughter bought me when she was working at the Botanic Gardens a few years ago. It is an American book but still has plenty of relevant information for those who aspire to make their own cider in Britain. I fear my own large bucket of cottage cider which I have brewing downstairs is not in the same league, but as long as it is drinkable, I shan't complain!

These were the other two books I bought in Hay. The Nimrod one came home with me as it had details of coaching in early Victorian times, and as my g.g. grandfather was a coachman in Devon, it is helping to show what his life would have been like.

The dialect book, West Country Words and Ways will have its own blog-post, when I can get myself organized - my brain is still kerfuffled from this recent cold.

This is one of my dual purpose cooking/eating apples. As you can see, it has an identifiable lumpy top. It cooks up whiter than a Bramley and will hold its white flesh even when it has been cut for several hours.

And this is one of its babies (grown from a pip) - it has obviously reverted to a parent of the apple (not that I am any the wiser as to which either of them are yet - more research needed) though the actual leaf remains the same. This still has the lumpy top, and is a dual-purpose apple, but without the red streaks of the apple above. There is another tree which has much smaller fruit with the red colouration, also grown from a pip from this same original tree.

No photo of my Christmas eater (probably the late Victorian Christmas Pearmain) - the fruit still cling tightly to it and I will have to wait for them to fall, as the tree is smothered in my Paul's Himalayan Musk rambler rose . . .


  1. When the photo of apples popped up on my previewer I inwardly groaned--being still in my "what will I do today?" mode. Instant recall of the bag of Cortland apples in the basement which need to be promptly turned into sauce.
    The only apple name which I recognize in your post is the Golden Delicious--would you think apple varieties would be so different on opposite sides of the Atlantic?
    There were a few old neglected trees that remained from a home orchard on my grandfather's farm when I was growing up. Most of them were gnarly and wormy, but one tree still bore very round yellow fruit which turned russet as they ripened. My grampa liked them as baked apples.
    On the back road near the farm which J. and I "owned" years ago was a strawberry sort of apple such as you describe.
    The trees in our yard here have been disappointing in spite of beautiful bloom. I expect they need a severe pruning. One is sprawled sidewise on its stump and seems feeble.
    I believe that having a productive home orchard is not as simple as the nursery catalogs would have us think.

  2. More than an apple a day here! You've reminded me, I have a Russet to eat in a minute - they don't appear in the shops for long, and are probably an acquired taste, but the ones I bought this week are delicious...

  3. Oh the wonderful apple. The smell, taste and heft of the thing.
    Give me a knarled and twisty old apple tree that still bears a few apples and I will be one rich woman!

  4. I love apples too and have half a tree to deal with! Most have been cooked and used in the bramble jellies and pies, but the other half - well, I'm at a loss. I think some preserving is on the cards :D

    I love the books about old apples and I'm sure your cider will be lovely :D